Note to storyteller: For this story it is helpful to have pictures or samples of a caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly to show the children. A chrysalis would be especially helpful.
Stevey was excited! He loved going to Grandpa and Grandma’s place! Mom and Dad would be away for the weekend and he and Grandpa would have the whole farm to themselves! Grandpa would let Stevey feed the animals and ride in the tractor. They had all kinds of fun together! Grandpa and Grandma would go to a really small church on Sabbath. There was only one other boy there about Stevey’s age. But the best bit was a little old lady who always had treats hiding in her big black purse for any boy who could answer a Bible question!
Stevey had such a wonderful weekend! For Sunday lunch Grandma even let Stevey make ice-cream the old fashioned way, with her ancient ice-cream churn and lots of ice and cream from the farm cows and fruit from the freezer.
Grandpa had a nap on Sunday afternoon. “I guess this side of heaven I’m still gonna need my beauty sleep!” he said. Stevey liked the way the sun shone through the window on Grandpa’s shiny old, bald head and sparkled in his silvery whiskers.
Stevey let him rest and went outside to see Grandma. There he found caterpillars in Grandma’s garden creeping about and eating up leaves. Grandma showed him a caterpillar which was turning into a chrysalis, wrapping itself all up in sticky thread. Grandma explained that going inside the chrysalis was a special time in the life of a caterpillar. When it eventually came out of the chrysalis, it would be a butterfly.
Then they found another chrysalis all finished and hanging on a leaf! Grandma had given him a jar in which to put the chrysalis and some leaves. Stevey wanted to take the chrysalis home and watch as it turned into a butterfly. Stevey thought it was amazing that a caterpillar, a chrysalis and a butterfly were one and the same creature! How could they all be the same when they looked so different? The chrysalis looked just like a dried up old autumn leaf with not a flicker of life in it. Stevey was sure it was really dead, but he didn’t want to disappoint Grandma by telling her so!
When Mom and Dad came for him, Stevey was really tired, but very happy. “Next time I’ll take you swimming in the river!” yelled Grandpa as they drove away waving. Stevey fell asleep on the way home holding the jar with his chrysalis inside. He was dreaming of owning his own tractor one day.
The next day Stevey watched with his Mom as the chrysalis began to wriggle and split. They took the leaves out of the jar and put them in their garden. Then they sat and watched for ages while the butterfly wriggled and squirmed and pulled its wet, crumpled wings out of that ugly little brown package. The butterfly waited a long time on the leaves until its wings were all dry and could open up. Then Stevey watched as the butterfly spread its wings out wide. He saw all the lovely colors in the wings as the butterfly flew into the sky for the first time. Stevey thought it was amazing! Like watching a miracle! He though how much fun it would be to be a butterfly! Much more fun than creeping about like a caterpillar and eating cabbage! Stevey saved the dried up chrysalis skin. It was ugly, but it was kind of interesting. He put it in his special box with an old bird’s nest and his special stone collection.
A couple of weeks later, Dad got a phone call. When he came off the phone, Dad was crying real tears. Stevey had never seen his Dad do that before. Dad just sat in his favorite big chair and cried and cried. Mom came and hugged him and Stevey patted his back because he didn’t know what else to do. After a little while, Dad pulled Stevey up on his lap and put his arm around Mom. They all had a big hug together. After a long time Dad’s sobbing became quieter. Finally Dad was able to explain what had happened that made him cry.
Grandpa had been driving the tractor out on the farm when he had had a heart attack. A heart attack is when a person’s heart gets sick and doesn’t work properly any more. Lots of times doctors are able to help people who have a heart attack get better. But sometimes when people have a heart attack, they die. Grandpa had died, right out there on the tractor. Grandma missed him when he didn’t come in for supper, and that’s when she went to look for him.
Now Stevey cried and cried and cried. He loved Grandpa. They had had so much fun together. He would miss him so much. Grandpa had promised to take him swimming in the river next time he visited. Now he couldn’t do that. Grandpa had said he would teach him to drive the tractor when he was big enough, and now he wouldn’t be able to do that either. But most of all Stevey would miss Grandpa, just friendly, huggy, happy old Grandpa. He would miss the smell of his farm clothes and the tickle of his whiskery beard. He would miss the way the sun shone on Grandpa’s shiny head.
That night in bed Stevey asked his Mom what it was like to die. Mom thought a long while and then she said, “Well, Stevey, death is a difficult thing to understand and talk about. But it’s a bit like this. On earth, we are sort of like the caterpillars you found. We can do lots of things, but nothing like all the things God first wanted us to do before sin came into the world. Our bodies here don’t last very long. They get worn out and ill and eventually everybody dies. It is sad when people die. We miss them lots and lots, and it hurts inside. But for people who love Jesus, like your Grandpa, dying is not the end of it.
“Next week we will go to Grandpa’s funeral and Grandpa will be buried in the ground. I suppose that is a bit like when the caterpillar turns into a chrysalis. The caterpillar probably sleeps and doesn’t really know what is happening. The Bible says that death is a bit like when you are asleep. When a person is dead he doesn’t dream, or know anything at all. But one day, when Jesus returns, He will take all the dead, chrysalis-sort-of-bodies and wake them all up. He will transform the bodies of people who love Him into something totally new and amazing, something far more wonderful than we can imagine! We will be beautiful and strong and able to fly. We will never be sad or sick again. And we will live forever this time.
“The caterpillar in the chrysalis had to wait a while before it could be changed into a butterfly. We don’t know how long it will be before Jesus will come again, but we know that He will. Then Grandpa will be alive and strong. He’ll probably get all his hair back again too! And I guess that one of the first things that Grandpa will want to do in heaven is to find you there and take you swimming in a crystal clear river, just like he promised when you last saw him!”
“So Grandpa will remember me and I’ll recognize him, even without his grey hair and whiskers?” Stevey asked.
“Yes, and he’ll recognize you, even if you are quite grown up! With our new bodies Jesus will give us our special memories back. Although we’ll have different sorts of bodies, we will still be just us.
“Would you like to make a special book to help you remember Grandpa and all the fun you had with him?”
“Can we put pictures of me and him in there? Could you write out some stories for me of all the things Grandpa and I have done together? I want to stick my chrysalis in there too. It will help me remember that pretty soon Grandpa won’t be dead any more. And I’m going to draw a picture of me and him, swimming together in the river in heaven!”
Stevey was sad at Grandpa’s funeral. It was hard to say goodbye. Stevey cried a lot and even after that, when he thought of Grandpa, he sometimes cried again. But when he felt sad, he went to look at his special “Grandpa and Stevey Book.” When he touched the chrysalis and remembered the butterfly flying away so beautifully, he thought of how he and Grandpa would one day swim in that river in heaven, splashing and laughing. Then the smile came back to his face.
By Karen Holford
Source: Facing Family Crises: Family Ministries Planbook. Silver Spring, MD; Department of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1999.